Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sweet Briar College: Daisy Williams

The story of Daisy’s ghost first caught my attention because Sweet Briar College openly talks about their most famous spirit.

This Women’s college is located in Virginia amidst the gently rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of the small town of Amherst, Virginia.

The Williams Family

Daisy’s mother, Indiana Fletcher Williams was a woman of considerable wealth and the owner of Sweet Briar plantation.

Indiana inherited the plantation from her father. He formerly was a schoolteacher and believed in the importance of education. Daisy and her siblings were sent away to excellent schools in New York and also had the opportunity to do a European tour.

Indian Fletcher Williams

Indiana met her husband an Irish immigrant, James Henry Williams while he was attending a graduate program at the Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1858. He then traveled to Virginia to renew their friendship. The two married in 1865.

Daisy Williams
Daisy, their only child, was born in 1867. She was raised in an exclusive pampered environment. Tragically, at the age of sixteen, she died of an antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited enzymatic disorder that is easily treatable today.

Indiana lost her husband just a few years later.

In a tribute to her daughter Indiana bequeathed her home, lands, and estate to the founding of a school for young women upon her death in 1900. At this time her estate was worth $1 million and had over 8,000 acres.

Daisy, her grandfather and her parents are all buried on Monument Hill in the family cemetery, which is located on the Sweet Briar College campus.

Members of the Williams family did not agree with this bequeath, they fought Indiana’s will but did not succeed. Sweet Briar College was founded in 1901.

Sweet Briar College
It is said one male Williams heir still bitter--feeling the family fortune should have been disbursed among its members-- took a fence post to the original marble monument that was placed on Daisy’s grave destroying everything but the base.

Original base
behind the College museum.
A new statue was placed on her grave, and the original base minus the cherub is displayed today behind the Sweet Briar College museum.

Screaming Statue

At the time of its founding the Sweet Briar campus consisted of only four buildings and just 50 female students. There were no modern forms of communication available like telephones or radios.

This college was hidden away in isolated woods -- the only sound that broke the silence was the passing train whistles.

This setting encouraged spooky stories to evolve. Members of the first graduating class wrote a book called, In the Light of Embers where they shared various strange happening they experienced on campus.

Daisy’s new statue quickly gained the reputation of being haunted. When the wind blew, various witnesses heard this statue “screaming.”

Since it has been determined that the way one hand on this monument is shaped causes this sound when the wind blows. But this story is still a beloved ghost tale on campus, and students often visit this haunted statue.


Her book entitled "Chatterbox."
The college museum still displays a well-worn book that Daisy illustrated and wrote when she was nine years old in 1876. One story in this booklet has her and a companion encountering a ghost while out riding.

Daisy loved to ride horses and Indiana after she died had her daughter's favorite pony saddled every day and taken to her gravesite. Daisy’s horse blanket is still displayed in the college museum.

Horses are still an integral part of Sweet Briar today. Many students over the years have brought their horses with them-- they board them at the elegant campus stable complex.

Sweet Briar is known for its students that ride competitively on the college’s Amateur Adult-- Field Team, and Hunter, Jumper Show Teams.

The campus today is crisscrossed with over 3,000 acres of walking, hiking and riding trails.

An Impish Ghost

Incidents involving Daisy’s ghost have been reported for over a century.

The College website has a section where students and staff share stories about these encounters. You can read them here.

One story involves a music box that belonged to the Williams family. It no longer works but mysteriously it still occasionally plays.

Another story is about a medallion, which appeared with an image of Daisy on it.

Many stories are about strange laughter that is heard in various buildings around campus.

The Twirling Cloud

An early resident of Sweet Briar tells one compelling story. This woman played with Daisy when they were both young girls.

They often would dance--twirl or spin in front of one large mirror located in the Sweet Briar House.

Years later, a cloud appeared on this same large mirror. It was seen twirling similarly as the two girls had done years before.

An Imaginary Friend

Another story shared, happened to a former president’s young daughter. 

Shortly after, President Barbara Hill and her daughter moved into the President’s House on campus her daughter started talking about a new playmate. Her mother believed this was an imaginary friend.

President's House
The President’s House was initially Indiana, James and Daisy’s home. One upstairs bedroom was Daisy’s room, and it still has all the furniture that was hers.

President Hill didn’t worry about her daughter’s new playmate until she discovered her daughter believed this friend lived within the home’s walls, and her name was “Daisy.”

A Forbidden Attic

One alumna from the college lived in Meta Glass dormitory as a student. She and the other residents were not allowed to go into the building’s attic.

She remembers that the building’s elevator often would stop on this top floor mysteriously.

This same student states that the police were often called in to check out this unoccupied attic space because many residents heard strange noises echoing from this area.

She personally heard these noises and remembers it scared her and her friends.

October Ghost Tours

Every October Sweet Briar College offers ghost tours. They tell stories about the school and about Daisy’s ghost.

In the fall of 2004, one woman caught on her camera a photograph that she believes is a glimpse of Daisy. This photo shows one of the upper rooms at the President’s House. It captured the image of a young girl.

This woman notes there were children playing in front of the house that day and she wonders if perhaps Daisy was watching them and wishing she could play with them.

At one point the then president and board of Sweet Briar announced the college would be closing, but the school since has managed to stay open.


Unknown said...

Update: Though the school was scheduled to close, through the dedication, passion, and stubbornness of all those who love the school and it was saved. I happily report that as a Sweet Briar Vixen Sophomore, I am back at school. I will also admit that I have had several strange experiences during my short time here. Last year my roommate and I lived on 4th floor Meta Glass and late at night, 10:30-11:30, we would often hear what sounded like bed frames or dressers being dragged across the floor above us. Now the 5th is a storage space where extra furniture is kept, but aside from staff, not one is allowed up there. And why would staff members be moving furniture around so late at night?

Virginia Lamkin said...

Glad to hear it. I hope the fund-raising continues to go well in the future.

Thanks for sharing your experience. This building has a history of being haunted.